Matt Parker’s debut album Worlds Put Together is appealing, but in an odd way. Perhaps that’s because on this record, the tenor and soprano sax practitioner is a paradox. He’s brash, tender, a servant of tradition at the same time he’s a merry demolitionist of jazz’s sacred cows. And above all, he’s unpredictably fun. In a way, this like a new Rahsaan Roland Kirk record.
That isn’t the first time that this record has been characterized that way, but Parker made it having never heard any Kirk. Developing his own, self-conceived style is something this Ft. Lauderdale, Florida native and onetime member of Maynard Ferguson’s band had worked hard at crafting. Furthermore, Parker doesn’t play a manzello or stritch or blow four horns at one time; Worlds Put Together is really more of a parallel to Kirk in its moxie rather than outright style similarities.
In any case, Parker made Worlds Put Together to introduce his own personality as a leader, choosing close musical colleagues as his backing band. Alto saxophonist Julio Monterrey often acts as his foil and harmony partner. Pianist Jesse Elder often sets in motion the ever-shifting moods for the songs, as does guitarist Josh Mease. Reggie Quinerly’s diversity at the drums serves him well on this album, and bassist Alan Hampton co-produced the record with Parker.
Parker’s songs — he composed all but one of these eleven tunes — are often episodic and moody, not such a unique thing amongst his peers in his adopted Brooklyn environs. However, Parker rides through these multitudes of moods over the course of less than five minutes (except for the ten-plus minute “Full Sun”). He sought to summon the feel of the old 78 records, where musicians were force to get to the point in a hurry.
Nothing actually sounds hurried, however. “Eye Of Rico” transits across four feelings, alternating between fury and calm, and simulating the arrival of a hurricane. “Lists” is a simmering cauldron of uneasy calm, bolstered by Quinerly’s sparkling cymbal washes. Parker plays an audacious, dramatic tenor on “New Bossa” as Mease paints a shimmering, spooky backdrop. The one standard, “Darn That Dream” is Parker playing telepathically with Monterrey — tenor sax vs. alto sax — taking sweet liberties with the melodies and literally chasing each other around. and “Full Sun” is an extended blowing session with excellent support from Elder, but it’s Parker’s and Monterrey’s incendiary sax sparring pushing bop to the outer limits in a way that calls to mind Lennie Tristano disciples Warne Marshe and Lee Konitz. The Old World feel of “Up and Down” is spiced up by African styled percussion and Parker and Monterrey blowing rough-hewn notes to create edginess.
Even taking into account Parker’s penchant for making songs unconventionally, there are some surprises. “WPT” is Parker on tenor sax alone, well, except for Jimmy Sutherland’s tap dance, and the rest of the band comes in with a boss-sounding bank of saxes and plays his ostinato with variations. “Alien Baby” goes flying off the cliff, only to come crawling back with a pretty, melodic progression. A festive atmosphere pervades “Zeynep’s Piano,” full of kids and grownups la-la-ing along to the waltzing harmony.
This being Matt Parker’s first time out as a leader, Parker casts caution to the wind whereas most first time leaders take timid steps in establishing themselves. It is his daring while keeping intact a strong bond to classic jazz that make Worlds Put Together an astonishing debut.
Worlds Put Together is poised for release May 21, by BYNK Records. Visit Matt Parker’s website for more info.